Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blaming the messenger: Police must face up to profiling data

Criticizing racial profiling data for disparities in how drivers are treated is a bit like blaming the bathroom scale when you overeat instead of improving your diet and exercising more.

Luflkin police chief Larry Brazil said last week that the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's analysis of his department's racial profiling data was "flawed," but the study's calculations were based entirely on the department's own reporting. Reported the Lufkin Daily News ("
Police dispute profiling statistics," March 5):
Black drivers are 2.7 times more likely than whites when stopped by police to be asked to consent to a search of their vehicles during traffic stops in Lufkin, and Latinos are 1.9 times more likely to be asked than whites, according to a report by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, using 2004 data collected and released by Lufkin Police.
But when the reporter took the department's original report and crunched the numbers, she came up with the same figures.
Numbers from Lufkin's 147 consent searches, broken down by race, included: 61 whites, 60 blacks and 26 Hispanics, according to the department's report.

The consent search numbers seem fairly level between black and whites, until you consider the difference in total traffic stops by race versus how many of each race's stops ended in searches. Of the 10,850 total stops, 6,727 were white and 2,476 were black.

Of whites pulled over, .91 percent were consent searched. For blacks, the number grows to 2.4 percent — hence the coalition's proportional numbers.

So where's the flaw? I sure don't see it. That's pretty much 8th grade math. Instead, Chief Brazil's comments appear to misunderstand what data was being analyzed in the report.
Brazil cited what he said were potential problems statewide in using census and jurisdictional information to set minority population numbers. He likened it to using the population moving through Diboll on U.S. Highway 59 as a sample representation of that city's racial makeup — a flawed method, Brazil said.
Problem is, the TCJC study doesn't compare traffic stop data to census or population figures - it compares search data to stop data. While it's true there's no generally accepted baseline to determine who is driving on the roads, by definition people who are searched at traffic stops are a subset of who is stopped. And since Lufkin PD officers gather the data themselves about the race of drivers they pull over, that number can be known. If the data is flawed, it could only be because Lufkin PD reported bad information, not because TCJC compared it improperly. They simply took the numbers LPD gave them and did the math.

(Personally I think disputes about what "baseline" or denominator traffic stops should be compared to are overblown - in previous studies that used multiple baselines, disparities remained about the same no matter what the reference point.)

That said, I agree with Chief Brazil "
who called for a uniform reporting format and data benchmarks." The chief complained of "a lack of legislative clarity on gathering data. There is no standard collection method from agency to agency, and no standard number constituting racial disproportion, Brazil stated."

Legislation that would have created better standards for gathering and analyzing racial profiling data passed in the Texas Senate in 2005, but did not clear the House because of opposition from police unions who want departments to stop gathering data altogether.

Lufkin PD was one of the agencies that did a good job on the front end implementing Texas' racial profiling law, and their policy was judged one of the better ones in the state in a 2002 study by ACLU of Texas comparing departmental policies to requirements in the law. But data speaks for itself, and Lufkin officers inarguably are more likely to consent search minority drivers than white ones, regardless of the chief's best intentions.

There's an easy solution, though, if the chief is concerned about the perception: Stop wasting time on consent searches where officers don't have probable cause. Groups like TCJC, NAACP, LULAC, ACLU and the National Rifle Association supported legislation to ban consent searches in Texas last year. New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island and the California Highway Patrol have already done away with consent searches because they're coercive and potentially discriminatory.

At a minimum, if the chief thinks those disparities are too high he should begin requiring his officers to obtain written consent before searching - when the Austin PD began requiring written consent, the number of people consenting to searches declined by 63%, and the racial disparity also diminished.

It's probably true, as the Lufkin paper reported, that the disparities in who is consent searched at traffic stops "
did not reflect the department's anti-profiling stance." But that doesn't mean they're not accurate. Now the department needs to own up to the numbers they report. If those figures don't reflect the department's "stance" then the chief needs to change his policies to reflect his community's real values. His comments in Sunday's paper amount to blaming the scale for an expanding waistline.

For consent search statistics from other Texas law enforcement agencies, see the report (pdf) from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and these area-specific fact sheets analyzing local numbers. Also, see prior Grits coverage of TCJC's report here and here.

17 comments:

Celtictexan said...

As always the fact that minorities are overwelmingly responsible for the majority of violent and drug based crime's is totally ignored. Oh wait a minute that wasn't said with much respect for political correctness was it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nor was it said having given much thought to the issue. What do non-probable-cause based searches at traffic stops have to do with violent crime? Nothing.

As for drugs, if you've got cause to search, search. Otherwise, the data clearly shows that where contraband data was collected, officers were more likely to find contraband when searching white people than minorities. Your premise just doesn't hold up to scrutiny, politically correct or not.

CelticTexan said...

Violent, as in fits a previous description related to some robbery or rape ect. The evidence of which could be in the trunk or under the seat etc.

Is this data your speaking of misdemeanor and felony charges added together or just felonies?

If misdemenaors are added in then perhaps it might show more white than minority offenders. But if just felony's are counted, and that is all that I really care about, then I don't believe that there would be more white's.

I suspect that data is creatively stretched to fit a liberal bias at best, totally false at worse.

Liberals are desparate to somehow bring equal opportunity to crime. They are desparate to somehow make it seem as if white's commit as much crime as minority's. And the minority's I'm speaking of are Black and Hispanic. Oriental's, a group conveniently left out of these figures, commit less crime than White's.

Police use many different ways of profiling to try to catch criminals. For instance in serial murder spree's the profile will almost always be a white male. Part of the delay in catching the D.C. Sniper was the fact that they were looking for a white man.

Biker's, mostly white, are as suspect as blacks when it comes to drug's and violent crime. And we don't need to body search old white women in wheelchairs at airports. Everyone know's who we need to fear. But no, for the sake of political correctness we pretend that it is as likely to be that old woman as the Muslim that blows up the plane.

I for one am glad of profiling. I wish that the police would just be left alone to do their job.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"If misdemenaors are added in then perhaps it might show more white than minority offenders. But if just felony's are counted, and that is all that I really care about, then I don't believe that there would be more white's.

I suspect that data is creatively stretched to fit a liberal bias at best, totally false at worse."

The stats are for all contraband both misdemeanor and felonies. And the data comes straight from police departments. The reason, most likely, that they find contraband on whites more often is that they search SO many more minorities. You may not like the data, but it's the cops' data, not "liberals."

Nice try on the violent crime angle, but that's not remotely why the Fort Bend Sheriff is searching so many people at traffic stops.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said... Nice try on the violent crime angle, but that's not remotely why the Fort Bend Sheriff is searching so many people at traffic stops.

That's true, not alot of violent crimes taking place on the highways is there? Just fishing expeditions!

Anonymous said...

Let's all have a moment of thought for this police officer who was injured while conducting all this so called profiling.
------------------------------------
Officer injured during traffic stop
Man allegedly runs over patrolwoman
By Tony Plohetski
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Austin police officer was injured early Tuesday after she became trapped in the window of a car she had pulled over, was dragged through a parking lot and run over.

Officer Brenda Bermudez, who has been with the department about five years, was taken to Brackenridge Hospital shortly after the 12:30 a.m. incident in the 2400 block of East Riverside Drive in East Austin. She was treated and released several hours later.

Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, said Bermudez suffered spinal and knee injuries that probably will require long-term care.

Authorities said Bermudez had stopped Armando Andres Torres, 24, and was at the driver's window of the 1999 Subaru station wagon when he tried to flee.

"Officer Bermudez was unable to free herself from the window and was dragged through the parking lot," police said in a news release. "She was knocked to the ground and was run over by the vehicle."

Torres and a passenger, Raymond Book, 55, abandoned the car on Willow Creek Drive, police said. They were arrested a short time later, and authorities said they probably will file charges against Torres today.

Torres has been convicted of several misdemeanors in Travis County, including burglary of a vehicle, criminal trespassing and family violence, according to records.

"This incident reminds us that officers day in and day out go out, and that routine police work can turn into a life-and-death situation in a matter of a split second," Sheffield said.

Todd Keister said...

Simply comparing 2 sets of numbers, be they stops to searches or stops to population data, do not scientifically "Prove" racial profiling by police.
Researchers attempting to examine the issue of racial profiling are presented with a host of difficulties. In addition to coping with all the ambiguities and interrelationships that are attendant in all police-citizen encounters, they must devise a credible means of measuring the instances of police contacts with persons of various races and ethnicities.
I would direct your attention to two studies: In the Preliminary Summary Report-Denver Police Department Contact Card Data, Thomas (2001)
Examining the data in the preliminary report, it is easy to see how the numbers may be manipulated to superficially validate a particular hypothesis. For example, the data for traffic stops revealed 22, 340 stops for white motorists and 9,281 for black motorists.
Clearly whites are stopped more than twice as often as blacks – no racial profiling. But, what if blacks made up only 1/10 of the greater Denver population? Then the numbers suggest racial profiling. But, what if blacks tend to violate the vehicle and traffic laws at a greater rate than whites? What if police are more likely to be patrolling in areas where blacks drive, and if so, why?

What is important when examining a purported police bias is finding out who is AVAILABLE to be searched at given times and places. A study commissioned by the Home Office of Great Britain and published in 2000. Titled Profiling Populations Available for Stops and Searches, it defined as “available”, “…people who use public places when and where stops and searches take place”.
What they found was that, while the raw data revealed nonwhites stopped at higher rates when compared to the general population, overall there was no significant difference when compared to the available population

The favorite tactic of the left, of putting two numbers next to one another to "prove" something as ethereal as racism is intellectually bankrupt.

Celtictexan said...

Yeah What Todd said. And all I can say about the nice try on the violent part is watch Cops. I know its not scientific but far as I can tell it's real They pull people over all the time that fit a prior reported violent crime and often find the evidence in the car.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Todd, you put the word "prove" in quotes, but no one used the word but you. In other words, you're attacking a straw man. In addition, your examples are discussing the analysis of stop data compared to population rates, not search data where the denominator is more easily defined: Who is "available" for searches at traffic stops? Those who are pulled over, obviously. And when minorities are pulled over, they're inarguably more likely to be subjected to consent searches than whites. The TCJC report doesn't say it's because of profiling, it says departments should study the reasons for the disparities and make efforts to reduce them where there's no articulable law enforcement reason for more frequent searches.

Finally, to Celtictexan, if cops pull someone over because they "fit a prior reported violent crime," then they have probable cause and there's no need for a consent search. It's not surprising that watching "Cops" would leave such an impression but you're comparing apples and oranges.

Celtictexan said...

And when minorities are pulled over, they're inarguably more likely to be subjected to consent searches than whites.---

Back to the original statement and the answer. Minoroties commit a disproportional # of crimes.

And how can you be "subjected" to a consent search.

sub·jected - Being in a position or in circumstances that place one under the power or authority of another or others: subject to the law.

con·sent- To give assent, as to the proposal of another; agree.

All you have to do is say no.

Refering to Cops again I'm always amazed when the cop asks the black guy and ask'd if he can search his car and he says yes. I guess he thinks the Cop won't find the 20 lbs. of pot he has in his trunk.

And police only have probable cause to search if they personaly witness the crime and then only if they feel there is somekind of danger. Without consent they can only hold the person until such time as they get an ok from the court. If they could search just because someone reported it might be them, then the country would be in disarray.

You know what would really be funny is if they were to studied the numbers of black v. whites stopped while walking. Talk about disproportionate.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

We've been through this minorities commit more crime schtick - it just doesn't have anything to do with no-cause searches at traffic stops, sorry. With consent searches, we're only talking about traffic stops where there's no evidence of criminal activity beyond the traffic violation they were stopped for. If there's even "reasonable suspicion" of criminality at a traffic stop, they can search without consent.

People are "subjected" to consent searches for two reasons: 1) most people don't know they can refuse and only about one in 20 do without a requirement for written consent, according to a study last year by academics the University of North Texas, and 2) in Texas, after the Supreme Court ruled for the cops in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, as Sandra Day O'Connor pointed out in her dissent, if you refuse they can legally arrest you for the traffic violation and search the car upon impound. Facing that implicit choice, who would refuse?

Anonymous said...

Holy cow! I almost shot soda out both nostrils! Haha!

Most folks don't know that they can deny consent, but they are familiar with "Atwater v. City of Lago Vista" and it's ramifications?

"Oooh, I love to dance a little sidestep.."

Too funny.

celtictexan said...

---Day O'Connor pointed out in her dissent, if you refuse they can legally arrest you for the traffic violation and search the car upon impound. Facing that implicit choice, who would refuse?---

Yes I would and have refused a request to search. Sure they could detain (not arrest outside of reckless driving or DWI) and try to get a search warrant but it better be good as they open their selves up for a lawsuit.

And I don't agree if the cop askes for consent then I garantee that for whatever reason he has become suspicious about some illegal activety.

The whole point of this liberal obsesstion whith race profiling is the fact that they what to cover up the higher crime rates among minorites. Read the following link it discusses the way the press plays down black crime and plays up white crime all in an effort to hide the truth.

http://www.amren.com/009issue/009issue.html

Todd Keister said...

Hey Grits:
You said I was the only contributor to use the term "Prove", yet you wrote in your reply to my post; "And when minorities are pulled over, they're inarguably more likely to be subjected to consent searches than whites." “Inarguably” means the same thing as “proven” the last time I checked the dictionary.

You stated that the report did not accuse the department of profiling, yet the news story that prompted your post was titled "Police dispute profiling statistics".

Finally you wrote; "...departments should study the reasons for the disparities and make efforts to reduce them where there's no articulable law enforcement reason for more frequent searches."

This is asking a police department to explain in the aggregate what amounts to hundreds of individual encounters and decisions made by dozens of police officers in differing circumstances - again highlighting the intellectual dishonesty involved in half-baked “studies” and “reports” of this nature: they are nothing more than transparent attempts by politically correct elitists to stir the racial divisions that help to keep them in power. (See the web site of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition that published the report. Their “partners” include the far-left organizations ACLU and NAACP)

Anonymous said...

To Tod Keister:

I'm definitely not far left so explain someone on the right the confusion of this:

"This is asking a police department to explain in the aggregate what amounts to hundreds of individual encounters and decisions made by dozens of police officers in differing circumstances"

If each stop is unique, then generally there's no training in general to teach a new recruit about a stop other than personal safety. Make sense so far.

If there's no training, then assumably each recruit other than issues of personal safety should treat each traffic stop as unique. It's a traffic stop at this point and nothing else right.

But next you need to explain why there's something else about the stop that makes it look PRETEXTUAL. I don't dispute the traffic stop but there's something about the stop that make it look like the traffic stop occurred after the cop took a good look at the driver or saw something that aroused the cop suspicion.

I think that's what the Hensonites are suspicious of and so am I if cops have pretextual reasons and then stop for traffic reasons. Last time I checked that's lying and that my friend is a far left and a far right concern.

Anonymous said...

Nothing at all wrong with pretext stops as long as they don't violate civil rights.

Fix the problem (Civil Rights Violations), rather than beat an innocent child.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Todd, "Inarguably," i.e., so long as 2+2=4, disparities exist in who is consent searched at traffic stops. It's not my data but the cops'. Neither of us are in a position to question their reporting.

The real issue, then, becomes: does that disparity, consistent over three years, "prove" racial profiling? That's a leap TCJC didn't take. It's a question for each department.

If departments look at their numbers and DON'T think they're justified, they can do what Austin PD did - they reduced the number of consent searches by about 90% by requiring written consent to search at traffic stops. The changes were implemented after their first annual racial profiling report showed they were 4-5 times more likely to search blacks than whites, but more likely to find contraband when searching whites. The new policy reduced discriminatory outcomes that had little law enforcement justification, saving valuable officer time to reduce 911 response times and other duties.

The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature passed a requirement last year for written and/or recorded consent to search at traffic stops before it was vetoed (SB 1195). The bill was supported by the Texas State Rifle Association and was backed 28-2 in the Texas Senate, which is not known for its liberalism. Say what you want, this is not just a "lefty" issue.